Whether you’re replacing a single stove or gut renovating a kitchen, make the most of your space and your money.
THE FIREWORKS SHOW would have been spectacular, if only its origins weren’t the cabinet-mount microwave over my range. After I white-knuckled through some oohs and aahs, the grand finale was an appliance that could not so much as pop a kernel of corn. And yet its built-in—and very much needed—fan and task lights still worked, leaving me with a conundrum: Should I live without a microwave, make do with a cheap dorm version, or cough up $600 for the same model—even though I was planning to reconfigure my kitchen in the next two years? Anticipating that larger renovation, I made do with a cheap dorm version. And I used the busted microwave for lights, venting… and critical snack storage.
Cover the Unexpected Expense
Granted, if you have to replace an appliance quickly, the microwave is a best-case scenario, since basic models go for as little as 60 bucks. A fridge or a clothes dryer is a different, more daunting matter. And if you feel like you can’t endure a day without one,
Splurging on a built-in ice maker can feel outlandish, until you spend a fortune on funky-tasting ice from the corner store.
“you have to plunge into the pool of buying appliances with a sense of urgency,” says Cara Acker, senior brand manager for the appliance brand Bosch. “People want value for the price. They want something special that’s worth the investment and will stand the test of time.”
You can save some money by buying floor models, which may be delivered without the box. See if the store can sweeten the deal with a service contract or warranty. Also, before buying, ask for the serial number and call the manufacturer to try to find out its age: I once bought a Sub-Zero floor model and didn’t discover until later that my “new” fridge was—wait for it—12 years old.
And if you’re hit with a bill for a few thousand to replace the oven range? That’s the exact kind of unforeseen expense ye olde sixmonth emergency fund is built for, says Michelle Brownstein, a certified financial planner and the vice president of private client services at Personal Capital. Whatever you take out, aim to immediately replenish, “even if it means temporarily pausing long-term savings,” she says. “If needed, cut down on monthly expenses for nonessentials to help with the last-minute purchase.”
Buy Today, Fit It in Tomorrow
If you have plans for a big renovation in a few years but suddenly find yourself with a busted fridge, you could invest now in the dream replacement you’ll use in your future project, Brownstein says. Think of that trickedout five-burner induction cooktop as an amuse-bouche before the awesome redo that will someday be yours!
As Acker points out, many appliances come in standard sizes, so when you work with your kitchen designer or architect, simply specify that you’ll use your existing 30-inch range, say, or 36-inch fridge. Just note: If you’re going with the same width but a different configuration—like a singledoor bottom freezer in place of a French-door model—triple-check door swing measurements so you’ll still be able to comfortably move around your kitchen.
Also, strongly consider the upgrades that might seem like a splurge but will pay for themselves in utility savings or convenience, Acker says. Newer dishwashers and clothes washers use way less water, for instance. And forking over an extra $800 for the built-in ice maker can feel outlandish, until you spend a small fortune on funky-tasting ice from the corner store.
Be Smart About an All-In Renovation
In the event you’re living the dream and finally replacing the black-glass appliances original to your 1983 home, the kitchen designer or architect will point you in the direction of what you need—but fine-tune your list based on what you’ll actually use, Acker says. If there’s an incentive to buy a suite of appliances from the same brand, definitely consider it, and of course do the extra 10 minutes of paperwork to get mail-in rebates.
To help finance a renovation, Brownstein recommends going with a home equity line of credit, or HELOC. Instead of taking out a lump sum, you borrow as needed, which can offer flexibility as you shop and your budget inches upward. “A HELOC is secured by the equity in your home and tends to come with a much lower interest than a credit card,” she says. “But if you have the cash to pay off the credit card next month, then it’s fine to finance a renovation with a credit card to get the points.”
If you’re looking to really splurge on high-end appliances (I’m pretty sure that Sub-Zero fridge—even the floor model!—cost more than what my parents paid to put me through four years of state college), Brownstein suggests taking the resale value of your house into account. Think about your whereabouts and the rest of your house: “Some markets expect top-of-the-line appliances, and they will likely help a home sell,” she says. “If it’s your starter home, outrageously expensive appliances may not look like a fit with the home.”
No one would make that mistake with my little dorm microwave.
INTERIOR DESIGNER Eduardo’s decades-long design career has included stints in fashion, theater, and window displays. “Having worked in these various fields helps me look at my projects through different lenses,” he says.